Harrisonville teacher sues over reassignment at detention center

Harrisonville schoolteacher Andrea Laughlin is suing the Harrisonville Board of Education, saying she was reassigned to a position she contends is contrary to her employment contract.

The suit asks for a temporary restraining order preventing the board from refusing to employ her as a guidance counselor.

Laughlin was hired in 2006 as a Harrisonville High School counselor and worked there until last fall when she was removed from that position “without warning” and “banished” to be a classroom teacher at the Cass County Juvenile Detention Center, according to court documents filed in late December.

In the lawsuit, Laughlin said she asked the district to honor her contract and was refused. It states that she is qualified to teach the students at the detention center but that a male teacher was typically assigned there because he would be less likely to be in physical danger. She contends that the district’s refusal to abide by the terms of her employment contract put her in harm’s way.

In a statement, the school district it “intends to vigorously defend against the teacher’s allegations.”

A copy of Laughlin’s May 2013 “permanent contract” attached to the lawsuit says she was hired as a teacher assigned to “guidance” duties. It also includes a provision that any initial teaching assignment does not create a contractual right to teach a particular subject or in a particular location and that the district retains the right to reassign the teacher. A press release from the district said that the district “strongly disagrees with the teacher’s interpretation of her contract.”

Laughlin did not respond to phone and email requests for comment. Her lawyer, Mark Nasteff Jr., said his client believes that the decision to reassign her was made during a closed session of the school board and that she was not given a reason for the decision. He said she requested copies of the meeting minutes, and they were produced in “redacted” format.

“No one has explained to her why she was moved,” Nasteff said.

Board president Marie Vallee declined to comment, saying the lawsuit is a confidential personnel matter.